How to Start a Mindfulness Practice
Your life is filled with energy and excitement. Living in a city, you're surrounded by fast-moving traffic, crowds moving to and from events, and your mind whirls with all the thoughts that make up your busy work and social life. You may find ways to de-stress, from weekend escapes to taking a technology detox, but after some time your active (and often hectic) life goes back into high gear.
Perhaps you're ready to be more mindful—you see wellness posts on Instagram and have seen the research that shows that living mindfully is good for us. If you're not sure where to start, we're here to nudge you in the right direction.
Do this now: set aside reading this article for five seconds. For five seconds just pay attention to what is around you. Use your senses to take in your surroundings. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
What did you notice? Great. What you noticed is less important than the fact that you did notice. Whatever it was—what you saw, heard, felt, or thought—is what mindfulness is all about. Of course, to get the benefits of being mindful you need to do more than just five-second spurts.
Fortunately, the modern focus on the subject means we have ample ways of learning to be mindful.
Meditations On Mindfulness
Meditation can be a great way to train your brain to be more mindful. Apps with built-in guided meditations (like Headspace) offer a simple way to get started with mediation. Meditation Oasis also offers guided meditation along with music and podcasts to download. The customizable Buddhify gives you exercises for things like staying offline or going to sleep. You can literally be reminded to be mindful with Stop, Breathe & Think, which pings you to, well…stop, breathe, and think (or feel, see, smell, or touch).
But maybe for some of us, using a phone isn’t the best way to get into the mindfulness game. If just looking at your phone turns into minutes (or hours) of a wasteful black hole, don’t worry—there are ways to be mindful without the use of technology.
Cities are filled with folks who get together and hold regular introductions and meditation sessions. Often you can get an introduction to their particular style of meditation and try it out. Look for local Buddhist centers that offer classes and introductory sessions, which are often free or request a small donation. Or if you're one of our student Zipsters, perhaps there's a club on campus and if not, you could start one!
Adult Ed centers usually offer short-term or even one-time classes that introduce you to meditation practices and mindfulness exercises. Many medical centers offer classes in mindfulness, with some focused on specific areas or issues such as anxiety, depression, and even addiction. In fact, some insurance plans offer either discounts on things like meditation classes, or will cover you for taking mindfulness sessions through a hospital or clinic.
If you’re interested in more active forms of mindfulness, yoga itself is a mindful practice, and some studios have sessions geared specifically toward developing a more mindful attitude. Tai Chi offers a mindfulness practice along with movement, and if you’re so inclined, many forms of martial arts also begin with a centering of the mind.
Sticking With It
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are sometimes hard to establish as part of a routine. In most cases you’re going to want to do them daily at least. If that seems daunting, then remember that consistency is most important when beginning any practice. If you are starting out with meditation for example, try doing it for just a few minutes each day rather than only once a week for 20–30 minutes. You can build up the minutes over time, but more importantly, you’ll establish a behavior pattern that’s easier to keep.
You may also need to avoid the temptation of evaluating whether you need to practice mindfulness that day. You might feel good or you might feel distracted, and either mood could persuade you to not practice that day. But the thing about mindfulness is that determining whether it’s having any benefit isn’t immediately clear. Trust that the research has shown that consistent practice over time (even when it seems like it’s “doing nothing”) is very valuable.
Whatever your interest or curiosity, finding your way into mindfulness will be uniquely your own. Explore and investigate the different options. Whether you use an app, take a class, or learn Tai Chi—each person has the capacity to transform their brain (and their mind) to be more aware of what’s going on right now. And really, with so much going on in your life, it’s worth stopping to simply appreciate all that it has in it.